XU ZHIMO, A.K.A. HSU CHI-MO (1897—1931)
XU ZHIMO, A.K.A. HSU CHI-MO (1897—1931). Poet. Xu Zhimo was born in Haining, Zhejiang Province, to a well-to-do family. In 1918, after studying at Beijing University, he went to the United States to study economics and finance, but a brief stint at Clark University only confirmed his distaste for the course of study his banker father had chosen for him. He subsequently transferred to Columbia University to study political science. Still unsatisfied, he left the United States to study at Cambridge University, where he fell in love with English romantic poetry. Inspired by poets such as Lord Byron, John Keats, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, he began to write his own poems. His two years in England were crucial in making a poet out of a young man who seemed to be drifting without a clear sense of direction. Both spiritually and emotionally, Xu became attached to Cambridge, to which he dedicated several lyric pieces, the best known among them being “Farewell, Cambridge” and “To Mansfield.” In 1922, he returned to China and joined the New Culture Movement as its best poet.
Comparable to his literary reputation is the notoriety of Xu’s entanglements with three women, a topic of several books, and recently, a movie and a television series. He married twice, first to Zhang Youyi, sister of a friend of his, whom he divorced while in Europe, angering his father. At Cambridge, he courted Lin Huiyin. Back in Beijing, he fell in love with Lu Xiaoman, who broke her engagement to a high-ranking government official to marry Xu. Although his divorce and second marriage went against social norms and aroused the wrath of conservatives, such as his own father and his mentor, Liang Qichao, Xu was accepted and even admired in intellectual and literary circles. He was considered a true romantic who not only embraced the romantic ideal in his poetry but also practiced it in his life.
Xu’s poetry, though modern in its thematic and formal features and its vernacular language, retains the musicality of classical Chinese poetry. At a time when it was in vogue to align poetry with everyday speech, discarding formalistic concern with rhyme and rhythm, Xu believed that modern poetry had its own internal aesthetic principles that were different from those of prose. A prolific poet, Xu also worked as an editor for literary journals and taught at several universities before dying in a plane crash in 1931 at the age of 34. He left behind four collections of verse and several volumes of translations from various languages. See also CRESCENT SOCIETY.